I toyed with the best of the decade route as well, as well as other scenarios, but when it came down to it...
Superman #423 (Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow I) Moore/Swan
Action #583 (Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow II) Moore/Swan
Superman Annual #11 (For the Man Who Has Everything) Moore/Gibbons
Fantastic Four #160 (In One World -- And Out the Other) Thomas/Buscema
Fantastic Four #51 (This Man This Monster) Kirby/Lee
Space Ghost #1 (The Sinister Spectre) Evanier/Rude
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #7 (And They Shall Call Him... Champion) DeFalco/Wilson
DC Comics Presents #52 (Ambush Bug II) Giffen/Levitz
Legion of Super-Heroes #23 (Back Home in Hell) Levitz/Lightle
Legion of Super-Heroes #11 (Tenzil Kem Takes a Bite Out of Crime) Giffen/Bierbaums
There could be only one though and it had to be the following...
But first - If the following review/synopsis seems lengthy, you might wonder why I choose a multi-issue storyline when it’s supposed to be just a single issue. Well, it’s true, by today’s standards this tale I’m about to present would take twelve issues, two cross-overs, an annual and a couple of specials to tell. But by the standards of how things used to be, it was all done in one.Superman #149
"The Death of Superman"
Jerry Siegel (Writer)
Curt Swan (Penciler)
Sheldon Moldof (Inker)
Bill Wray (Colorist)
Mort Weisinger (Editor)Part 1: Lex Luthor, Hero
Lex Luthor is in prison and spies a strange rock. Wanting to examine he’s forced to slug a guard to get yard detail which allows to him to discover Element X. He pleads with the warden to let him experiment with it and vows that he can cure cancer with it. The warden reluctantly agrees.
Sure enough, Lex Luthor does it. He cures cancer! Word travels fast upon hearing the news Superman heads for space to retrieve as much Element X as he can. This is followed by Superman, truly beliving in Lex’s sincerity, intervenes on Luthor’s behalf at a parole hearing. Superman words grant Lex his freedom and together the two of them vow to do great things.
Lex shows Superman all of his old secret hideouts, devices etc.. Luthor truly has turned to the side of good. But his past quickly catches up to him as his old hoodlum pals come calling. Either Luthor kills Superman for the mob or they’ll kill Luthor.Part 2: Luthor’s Bodyguard
Lex insists that he won’t kill Superman and the hoods fire at Lex. Superman swoops in to block the bullets and he corals the goons. Superman then gives Lex a copy of Jimmy’s signal watch to alert the Man of Steel whenever danger is present.
Which is a lot. Lex narrowly escapes dozens of attempts on his life by the people he ‘betrayed’ when he sided with good. Superman is quite busy protecting him and finally figures that it’s just too risky leaving Lex on Earth, so he builds him an orbital laboratory where Lex happily sets up shop.
Even this doesn’t stop the underwold chiefs who invest heavily in a deadly missle to take out the satellite. Superman once again saves the day and this time he installs a shield around the space station to protect Lex giving Luthor a rocket flare to fire if he’s ever in danger again.
A week later the flare goes off and Superman comes to the station. He asks Lex what’s wrong when Lex flips a switch a deadly kryptonite ray envelopes Superman poisoning him.
Every Lex had done, all the good, all the benefits to mankind, was just a ruse to get Superman to fall into a false sense of security. As Superman writhes in sheer agony, Lex torments him further by revealing that he has kidnapped his closest friends, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White to witness Lex’s victory. Lex continues to turn his XXX-Rays intensity up and the unthinkable happens. Superman is dead.
Celebrating his victory, Lex returns the Daily Planet employees and Superman’s corpse back to Earth. Once again the news spreads fast across the world. As citizens sob, the underworld cheer for Luthor as all is forgiven. Now nothing can stop Lex from becoming King of the World.Part 3: The Death of Superman
Superman’s body is placed in a glass coffin and the public are given an opportunity to see their hero in a processional that extends for miles. World dignitaries view him. Aliens from across the galaxy visit to pay their respects.
One by one those closest to him stop to reflect. The JLA, Lois Lane, Lucy Lane, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, Lori Lemaris, Lana Lang, Krypto, a disguised Supergirl, even Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl travel from the future to honor him. Elsewhere in Superman’s fortress of Solitude, his robots stand vigil as too do the citizens in the Bottle City of Kandor.
Meanwhile Lex is partying it up with his criminal pals. He takes revelry in telling all the story of how HE killed Superman over and over again. As all toast him, Superman comes crashing through the wall to arrest Luthor. Everyone is shocked, none more so than Luthor. But then to their astonishment, Supergirl reveals herself in a Superman costume. Having never heard of her (Supergirl’s existence was for a time kept far from common knowledge) Luthor is caught unprepared and is taken into custody.
Because Lex killed a Kryptonian, Supergirl transports him to Kandor where he is put on trial. Throughout the entire televised affair Lex is smugly confident. Witness after witness help bury Luthor in his guilt. He is found guilty and is sentenced to the Phantom Zone but before he can be sent, he uses his ace in the hole.
He tells the Kandorians that if they let him go he will fulfill their greatest wish and be enlarged back to their normal size. There is no doubt in Luthor’s mind that they wouldn’t take his offer.
But his offer falls on deaf ears. He killed Superman and he is sent off in complete disbelief to a horrific eternal fate.
In the final scenes, Supergirl reveals herself to the world and vows to carry on Superman’s good work. All the time forever missing her cousin. The End.The Story
Siegle, the man who first breathed life into Superman, does the unthinkable and kills his (and comics) greatest creation. It wasn’t a marketing ploy. It wasn’t preceded by newspaper articles or TV blurbs. It was simply the November issue of the Superman title.
Sure, the writing is Siler Age-ish. What else would you expect from 1961? Well, actually, one thing you wouldn’t expect is an “Imaginary Tale” like this. Today, we take for granted concepts like “What If” and “Elseworlds”. But back then, the idea was almost unheard of. Those future ‘alernative’ reality stories owe a great deal of gratitude to DC’s early Imaginary Tales (of which this issue is the best of the bunch).
Another aspect of this tale that was completely unexpected (especially for it’s day) was that there wasn’t a miracle at the end. When Superman dies on page 16, he’s still dead when the book ends on page 25.
But my favorite part of the story has got to be Lex’s plan. His ultimate goal was to kill Superman and step one to get there was to cure cancer! That is the true definition of diabolical!The Art
Curt Swan was already well established as the top Superman artist back then (as he would be for another couple decades to come). As fast paced as this story is, he captures every moment and conveys the perfect visual. The panel where Lex revels in retelling Superman’s final moment is forever etched into my consciousness.
Impeccable story telling – 10
Fantastic art – 10
Overall - 10